Get A Good Night’s Sleep – Lifestyle

Get A Good Night’s Sleep – Lifestyle

Your Lifestyle

lifestyle Our twenty first century lifestyles are fast-paced and full of stimulation. Often from the moment when we wake up and check our smart phones, life is fast paced and non-stop. We put on the radio or television to be given the news as it happens and when it happens, we check our emails constantly throughout the day; we sit at our computers and/or watch television late into the evening. It barely stops and it can be difficult to switch off and wind down so it’s small wonder that many of us have trouble sleeping.

Until about 100 years ago, we worked hard physically, went to bed when it got dark and got up when it was light. In this way we went to bed unconfused by changes in our body clock, and physically rather than mentally exhausted. Our worries centred more on the health and lives of our families and putting food on the table rather than some of the more complex issues that keep us up. Often, when we should be winding down the brain is still active and stimulated so it becomes difficult to rest and relax. This can lead to ‘lifestyle insomnia’, where sleeping difficulties result from a full, busy and stressful lifestyle.

We’ll look at dealing with stress, emotional and financial pressures in the next chapter, but here we’ll look at how you can change your lifestyle and habits to optimise good sleep. Outside of your bedroom there are other environmental factors that can be taken into account that may make a difference in the quality of sleep you enjoy.

Innovations that help us sleep – Low blue lights

The importance of a dark bedroom is mentioned in the last chapter, however light intensity in the evenings is also important. The brightness of the lights in your bedroom and your home can have an effect on your sleep quality, as was found in a study that showed that the evening light we are exposed to in an indoor environment affects our biological clock and can disrupt sleep quality.

Researchers at the Surrey Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey found that the ordinary, artificial indoor-light we are exposed to in the evening suppresses the rise of melatonin, making us feel less sleepy, and thus more inclined to delay bedtime. This is because most lights contain a high amount of blue light; however the researchers found that when they altered the colour of light, reducing blue light and increasing the red and yellow, the disruptive effects of the light were minimised. (Luc Schlangen, Nayantara Santhi, Derk-Jan Dijk, Journal of Pineal Research Nov. 2011).

Their research follows the discovery of a blue-sensitive photoreceptor which specifically targets the body’s circadian rhythm.

It is now possible to buy low-blue light bulbs for the home, and glasses that can reduce blue light exposure from computer screens, tablets and smart phones which all contain high amounts of blue light which can impair our production of melatonin and disturb sleep.

See Resources for stockists of low blue light bulbs and glasses.

The researchers in the above study also found that reducing overall light intensity was also able to minimise the disruptive effects. So if you don’t have them, try to fit dimmer switches to your lights and reduce light intensity in the hours before bedtime. You can also reduce light intensity by using low wattage bulbs, energy saver bulbs, and using lamps instead of ceiling lights.

Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routine is important and is frequently not taken seriously enough. Just as a child needs a routine to promote a good nights’ sleep, so do we. We might not require a bed time story, but we need to relax and unwind. That means reducing electronic and intellectual stimulation that keep the mind active and busy and just letting go. Don’t go to bed too early or too late. If you are unable to fall asleep and find yourself lying in bed for more than 30 minutes, get up and go to another room. Keep the lights as dim as possible and don’t do anything too stimulating.

Optimized-deep sleep  Try listening to soft music until you start to feel sleepy, then go back to bed. This will enforce the association between bed and sleep rather than bed and wakefulness.

Also try to maintain a regular sleep pattern so try to avoid long lie-ins on your day off or at the weekend. This will help to enforce a routine. Try to determine what your optimal amount of sleep is. You may function at your best with nine hours sleep or six hours sleep. You can then regulate your bedtime in order to try to get the right amount of sleep for you.

Avoid Alcohol

avoid alcoholOften that means a glass or three of wine, or some other alcoholic drink, but this can be counter-productive and actually make your sleeping difficulties worse. By all means enjoy a responsible and jolly social life but never use alcohol as a sleep aid. You may drop off but within an hour or so you will be padding to the loo and most likely have a nasty headache. Remember alcohol tends to “knock you out” like some medicines, and you won’t get normal restorative sleep as a result.

Avoid late night use of technology

We mentioned the use of electronic equipment in the bedroom section, however there is increasing evidence that late-night use of mobile phones is more disruptive to sleep than watching television.

avoid late night use of technologyNeuroscientist Dr Paul Howard-Jones of Bristol University found that staring at a small bright screen, especially under the covers when the lights are off, can disrupt the secretion of melatonin, which of course regulates our sleep cycle. And this disruption was stronger than watching television late at night. This can particularly affect teenagers who spend a lot of time texting on their mobile phones.

Dr Howard-Jones also found that teenagers who text after lights out are four times more likely to experience daytime drowsiness, and has found studies that have linked playing video games, even early in the evening, with loss of sleep.

Avoid napping

Try to avoid day-time naps, especially if you are getting older – take some gentle exercise and keep active – you will sleep better and longer at night. Naps during the day often incorporate the deeper stage 3 sleep, which can result in more stage 1 and 2 sleep at night. This can be a problem because stage 1 and 2 sleep is lighter and you are more easily awoken.

 

Optimized-Avoid-Night-Time-Naps

Try to restrict sleep to bed time only; the more tired you are the more likely you are to enjoy a restful sleep when you follow all the steps. Finally the toughest suggestion of all, however little you have slept, set your alarm and get up at the same time each day – no lie-ins to compensate. A little sleep deprivation will soon get you back into a better sleep routine.

Summary

  • Reduce the intensity of light in your home in the evenings by using dimmer switches or lamps with low wattage bulbs
  • Have a bedtime routine and maintain a regular sleep pattern
  • Use a hot water bottle if you get cold feet
  • Empty your bladder before going to bed
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid use of technology in the hours before bedtime including computers, mobile phones and televisions
  • Avoid napping during the day

Top Tips

You are in control of how you approach sleep, you need to understand its benefits and also learn the ‘skill’ of good sleep. Many of the habits you had as a child will affect your sleep throughout life – think back on when you had your best sleep and try to replicate the routine (as far as practical). If you slept badly as a child you may need to completely re-educate yourself back to good habits. Finally don’t be concerned about HOW much sleep you get, measure your success by how alert and rested you feel during the day and can cope (or not) with day time activities.

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